I grew up in Canada and in the United States. I always was interested in languages. In the communities where I lived, many languages were spoken all the time. I love languages so much, I became a linguistic anthropologist. That’s a person who studies languages from around the world. I’m interested in how languages are used and how they change. And I love how they connect us to the people around us.
One day when I was in college, I had a crazy idea. Wouldn’t it be interesting to discover a new language? I know. It sounds crazy. Yet, it’s possible.
Languages don’t stay the same. Over time, they change. Sometimes a new version is created that is not like anything that has ever been spoken before. To find it, you have to be at the right place at the right time. I had an idea where I might look: Peru, in South America.
In Puno, a region of Peru, people speak two indigenous languages. That means a language that is native to a specific place. Puno’s languages are Quechua and Aymara.
You hear these languages in the market and at celebrations. But I wondered if, over time, Quechua and Aymara might have melded to become something new.
Learn a little Quechua or Aymara. Try these useful words and phrases:
How are you?
Puno overlooks Lake Titicaca, the largest, deepest lake in the Andes.
Living the High Life
To test my theory, I packed my backpack with notebooks and my best audio recorder and microphone.
In the southernmost part of the Peruvian Andes is the Altiplano. In Spanish, this means “high and flat.” It’s a high, dry plateau with snow‑capped mountains. It is home to Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.
The communities in Puno are more than 3,800 meters (approximately 2.5 miles) above sea level. It’s so high you can feel the effects on your body.
I am good.
When I first arrived, I could feel myself breathing faster and feeling dizzy. Later, I felt nauseous and had a headache. This was sorrocha, or altitude sickness. The local remedy was coca tea. I drank the tea in the evenings and soon felt better.
Being high in the sky also means less ozone. This gas in the air protects you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. In the Altiplano, people never go out without their sun hats.
Mountains loom in the distance of this roadside market.